During this past year J.K. Rowling has been enchanting Harry Potter fans by expanding the world she created in her novels in new written pieces that delve into the history of magic in the United States. To help promote and build a foundation for her upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, she’s written original pieces about the history and role of magic in the New World, starting in the 14th century with Native Americans wizards, to the Salem Witch Trials, to the self-imposed ban by the magical community from the non-magical world, to famous wand makers, to the founding of America’s greatest school of witchcraft and wizardry Ilvermorny. Most recently, she has added another new piece, an in-depth look at the history of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, better known as MACUSA.
Rowling has previously touched upon the formation and role of MACUSA (pronounced “Mah-cooz-ah”), which is the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic we all know so well from Harry Potter. That said, MACUSA is different in many ways from the Ministry. Now that we’ve had a chance to see multiple trailers for Fantastic Beasts, and we’ve started to understand the strange world its protagonist, the British-born Newt Scamander, will find himself in across the Atlantic, what might this latest write-up tell us about what to expect from the movie?
We know MACUSA will play a huge role in the film (Rowling’s first screenplay), where the secrecy of the magical world itself is in danger from Newt’s escaped creatures. So what does this piece on MACUSA’s history, which explains its role in shaping the world that American wizards and witches inhabit in 1920s New York (where the film is set) and reveals information about important people that make up its governing body, foretell about Fantastic Beasts?
Accio our best theories!
There’s a lot great, interesting information and history here, so we’re focusing on the parts we think will be most important for the movie (the first movie at least, since this will be a trilogy and we don’t think Ilvermorny will matter until the sequels, for example). It’s important to remember that America, right up until Newt Scamander arrived, was a very dangerous place for wizards, and there was no cooperation or personal relationships between the magical world and its non-magical counterpart. Wizards lived in isolation, primarily for their own safety.
MACUSA was created in 1963, partly in response to the Salem Witch Trials, but also to deal with the growing magic population, a large influx of criminal wizards, and (especially) to deal with the threat of Scourers.
The foundation of MACUSA was not just for simple organization and governing rules, but also about safety. America’s magical citizens faced many dangers, and chief among them were Scourers. If you haven’t read any of Rowling’s American history pieces and aren’t familiar with Scourers, they were essentially a band of rogue wizards that ran their own Spanish Inquisition (yet somehow less principled) in the 17th century; MACUSA’s first task was to bring them to justice. Some evaded capture, married No-Majs (American Muggles), and rid their families of any magic. However, they never lost their hate for the world of magic, and their descendants were responsible for the continued fear and hatred of witches in America by the time Newt Scamander arrived.
Scourers keep coming up in these pieces, even though there’s no indication that any specific character that might be a Scourer descendant will play a big part in the film. Might it be that their general presence in making No-Majs question the existence of the magical world is important enough to warrant their continued mentions?
We’re starting to think their role in American magic history is too important, and being referenced too often, for them not to play a significant part in Fantastic Beasts. Yes, the presence of dangerous, escaped creatures is a major problem on its own, but it’s what their potential discovery might cause that is the real conflict. There is an uneasy existence here; wizards have long banned themselves from interacting with the No-Maj world for safety, all while a small, vocal, knowledgeable group of people that hate wizards scream about the danger of magic. Newt’s screw up, in a world he doesn’t know or understand, could be the spark that sets the whole thing off.
The presence of Scourers really stands out from this piece because of some other new information here, pertaining to the only character resembling a potential villain in any of the trailers:Colin Farrell, who just so happens to have a very famous ancestor that battled with Scourers.
The first MACUSA President had 12 brave, volunteer Aurors, a group of wizards and witches that knew they might not survive the job (and most did not) hunting down dangerous wizards and Scourers. These 12 hold a very special place in American magic history, and one of them, the wizard Gondulphus Graves, is the ancestor of Percival Graves.
Percival Graves, played by Farrell in Fantastic Beasts, is the Director of Magical Security at MACUSA, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and works closely with MACUSA president Seraphina Picquery.
So now that we know he comes from one of the most famous, most renowned American wizarding families, what does that tell us about him? Could it mean that he carries a heavy burden, and that he struggles to live up to an imposing legacy? Or could he carry himself with an air of superiority, sort of like a Malfoy? Or rather, might he be a great man who comes from a good bloodline that recognizes the danger Newt Scamander brings to New York, and he only appears to be a “villain” because it’s his job to keep his kind safe?
When we combine this information about his family with the most recent trailer we get an interesting picture. In the last trailer we hear Percival Graves talk about not wanting to live in the shadows anymore, which certainly sounds like he is tired of hiding from No-Majs. In that case a total catastrophe, like the kind Newt’s escaped creatures pose, might offer a chance to blow that cover and come out in the open.
“I refuse to bow down any longer.”
He sounds like a Death Eater when he says that. So if we think Scourers are going to play a meaningful role, and we have a very important, very powerful wizard from a famous family itching to come out. That’s a recipe for war. Especially when he has the ear and trust of the MACUSA president.
So how might it be avoided? How can two worlds, both being pulled by hateful members to destroy their uneasy existence, avoid catastrophe?
By finding the strength to look out for the common good, like they did during the Revolutionary War.
Even though the official stance of MACUSA was to stay out of the No-Maj Revolutionary War, many wizards and witches aided their American counterparts in achieving independence from the British.
After their magical British counterparts said they weren’t getting involved in the American Revolutionary War, and MACUSA had made the official stance not to fight out of fear they would out themselves, many wizards and witches covertly aided their fellow No-Maj colonists in winning the war anyway, and they celebrated, on their own, on America’s Independence Day.
There is a history in the American wizarding world of keeping an eye out for the safety of their fellow Americans, so might there still be enough wizards that care about the safety of all to help avert a war started between the Scourers and wizards like Percival Graves?
Even though Rappaport’s Law of 1790 by MACUSA created a strict, self-imposed separation from the No-Maj world, that law came about from Scourers trying to destroy them. This time the danger might come from within, and if that war starts plenty of wizards and No-Majs alike will die as a result. Who wins then?
Yet, any wizards hoping to do the right thing for all could face dire consequences if caught.
In the 1920s, Rappaport’s Law was still in effect, and MACUSA had a division entirely dedicated to No-Maj fraternization. Unlike British wizards, who were punished by being sent to Azkaban, American wizards could be sentenced to death.
So the plot of Fantastic Beasts is that a young English wizard comes to America—where the magical world, in constant danger, has been in hiding for over a century and has strict laws about not interacting with No-Majs—and he loses a bunch of magical creatures that threaten to expose their existence.
But the more Rowling reveals to us about this magical world of America, the more it seems that the real threat, and the real battle here, will come from the beasts within each community. From Scourers that want to bring magic out into the open so that they can destroy it, and from wizards that want to come out of the hiding so they can wage war against their oppressors
Just like in both the real world and in the world of Harry Potter, it seems like it will come down to the will of good people, and good wizards, to find the strength to stop them.
What do you think about this piece on MACUSA? What do you think it reveals about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? We’re having tons of fun speculating while we wait for the movie to come out on November 18th, so cast your best theories in the comments below.
Images: Warner Bros. Studios